A US federal agency has urged the White House to fire Kellyanne Conway, a close adviser to President Donald Trump, claiming that she repeatedly violated a rule that forbids government employees from engaging in partisan political behaviour at work.
The Office of Special Counsel — an independent federal agency that has no connection to Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation — accused Ms Conway, who served as Mr Trump’s 2016 campaign manager, of falling foul of the Hatch Act on multiple occasions by “making statements directed at the success of [the president’s re-election campaign” and the shortcomings of the Democratic presidential candidates who might run against him.
“As a highly visible member of the administration, Ms Conway’s violations, if left unpunished, send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act’s restrictions,” Henry Kerner, the head of the special counsel’s office, wrote in a letter to Mr Trump on Thursday.
Blah, blah, blah. If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work. Let me know when the jail sentence starts.
Mr Kerner claimed that any other federal employee who had violated the Hatch Act on so many occasions would have been removed from office by a federal government ethics board, which adjudicates such violations. He also said that the special counsel’s office had never had to issue “multiple reports to the president concerning Hatch Act violations by the same individual”.
The White House responded with a rebuke of the report and said it would not be following the special counsel’s recommendation. Pat Cipollone, White House counsel, denied the allegations in an 11-page letter sent to the special counsel’s office on June 11, saying that the findings were “based on multiple fundamental legal and factual errors” and had been “influenced by various inappropriate considerations”.
Mr Cipollone claimed that the report was “the product of a fatally flawed process” as Ms Conway had not been given enough time to respond to the allegations against her, and accused the special counsel’s office of “overreaching” with its “outrageous” suggestion that the White House remove Ms Conway from her position.
Meanwhile, Steven Groves, deputy White House press secretary, warned that the Office of Special Counsel’s interpretation of the Hatch Act would have “a chilling effect on free speech for all federal employees”.
Ms Conway was first accused of violating the Hatch Act in 2017, when she was reprimanded for talking up the clothing line of Ivanka Trump, Mr Trump’s daughter, in a TV interview.
More recently, she has made derogatory comments about Joe Biden, the former vice-president and current Democratic presidential candidate, and Bernie Sanders, another 2020 contender.
Asked by reporters about the potential Hatch Act violations last month, Ms Conway dismissed the accusations.
“Blah, blah, blah. If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work,” Ms Conway said at the time. “Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”
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